FHWA proposing new road design policies for greater flexibility

By Dan Handel

Earlier this month the FHWA announced a proposed change to its design standards that are currently applied to all highway projects. The changes are intended to give engineers and planners much more flexibility and autonomy by eliminating outdated standards. For roads with a speed limit below 50 mph, the proposal seeks to remove 11 of the 13 design criteria; for roads over 50 mph, three criteria would be removed. “This proposed policy change will give states and communities the opportunity to be more innovative in designing their local projects,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. A public comment period is open until December 7, 2015.

In August, FHWA released its updated Bicycle and Pedestrian Provisions of Federal Transportation Legislation document that provides guidance on integrating bicycling and walking into transportation projects. The document addresses some misconceptions about how federal funding can be used and when a design exception must be requested. It emphasizes that federal rules and funding are significantly more flexible than has been portrayed in the past. Specifically, federal funding can be used for the following:

  • Narrower lanes, which help slow traffic down and shorten crossing distance for pedestrians
  • Designs that are not in the AASHTO Green Book
  • Protected bike lanes and other innovative solutions for biking and walking
  • Road diets that can improve traffic safety
  • Projects with speed limits not set by the 85th percentile rule

On November 2, SSTI will offer a webinar with FHWA staff, discussing in more depth some of these common misconceptions regarding federal funding and flexible roadway design for improving livability and safety.

Dan Handel is a Graduate Assistant at SSTI.